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Comprehensive Consultation Call Center for North Korean Defectors 1577-6635
SUCCESS STORY
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The easiest thing in the world is to ‘give up’.
NKRF Date 2021-09-14 Hit 86

 

The easiest thing in the world is to ‘give up’.



The sound of a blowing hairdryer breaks through the hot afternoon in a hair salon located in the center of Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi-do. It is here that we meet Ms. Lee Mi-yeon, who’s been working as a hair designer for 7 years.
With swift scissoring, she finishes a short cut hairstyle, and after shampooing she turns to the next client and finishes the long hair into a stylish wave. She’s a highly talented hair designer who can produce a variety of styles, but she didn’t have any special talents in the beauty or hair design field from the beginning.
Ms. Lee Mi-yeon’s hometown is Onseong, Hamgyeongbuk-do. During the ‘Arduous March’ of 1997, she visited home during vacation and ended up defecting at her older brother’s urging. She found out later that her brother had been planning for their whole family to defect together and had been waiting for her to visit.


Invest 6 months to advance 3 years
She was 21 years old when she defected and had her graduation ahead, which she continued to have lingering feelings about, but after safely defecting, she worked in a Korean restaurant located in Heilongjiang, China. Here, for several years she shared meals with her South Korean co-workers and naturally became accustomed to the South Korean culture and determined in her heart to learn hair styling skills in South Korea.
When she first settled in Korea, she focused on caring for her newly born second child for a while, until 4 years later when she could attend a beauty school on government support. People around her voiced their concerns about her learning the skill of hair design since she was nearing the age of 40 but putting aside their worries, she worked hard for her hairdresser license. She wanted to become a hairdresser because she realized that learning a skill was the best way to maintain a job for a long time. To acquire her hairdresser license, she studied for 6 months through a theoretical process, learning about cutting, drying, and more. There are students who complete the theoretical learning and jump into field work, but Ms. Lee chose to undergo a 6-month long practical process in the field.
The reason she decided on the practical course was because when completed, it is considered as 3 years of work experience. The 6-month long practical experience period provides an opportunity for students to quickly learn the real-life skills that would have been experienced and acquired over 3 years in a hair salon. Most hair salon directors choose hourly part-timers as their first step of recruitment. This is because no matter how much experience you have, there usually needs to be a period of evaluating your skills and character as a hairdresser. Ms. Mi-yeon also worked as a part-timer for 3 months before being employed as an official hairdresser.



Don’t take things too personally
Thanks to smoothly completing her practicum, she could avoid hearing customer complaints about mistakes or expressions of displeasure with her styling, but she couldn’t do anything about her North Korean dialect. Because of COVID-19 and the social distancing rules, hair salons are generally quiet, but in the past, it was natural for a hairdresser to strike up a conversation with customers.
When conversing with customers from Gyeongsang-do or Gangwon-do, or even Busan, their accents are all similar, so they didn’t bring up her dialect, but for clients who asked, “Where’s your hometown?” she quickly replied, “Gangwon-do”, and tried to hide her embarrassment by seeming distracted or busy.
“Sometimes I catch the news that North Korea fired missiles or said something against South Korea when I’m with customers in the hair salon, and for some reason I feel really sorry and get depressed. I’m sure people from North Korea have experienced something like this at least once or twice. But now, something that’s changed is that I just take in those situations and move on with my life. Because if I get hurt by something customers said without meaning harm, then it’s just hard for me.” 
She worked as a hair designer for 3 years and 8 months in the first salon she was employed at. Following that, she took over an acquaintance’s hair salon and worked as its director for about a year. Currently, she’s working as a hair designer at another hair salon. Working in the same place for a long time can increase your wages and it is more comfortable working with people you’re familiar with, but Ms. Lee has worked around at different hair salons. One might wonder if it’s because she’s had difficulties getting along with co-workers or if it was a matter over salary, but it’s actually for a different reason.
She plans on opening her own hair salon next year. Working as a staff in a hair salon is completely different to operating a hair salon, and it’s a new challenge. To open her own hair salon, she needs to be thoroughly prepared beforehand. The things she needs to prepare include selecting the salon’s location, customer management, employee recruitment, purchasing materials, researching information in trending hair styles, and many more.
One might think 7 years of experience is more than enough, but she thinks differently. Having worked as an experienced designer from the beginning, she was not able to learn the basics of work that only salon staff experience. Her plan has been to work as a staff member in various hair salons to observe other hair designer’s techniques and learn about business operations to help thoroughly prepare for the establishment of her own hair salon.



Impatience can be crippling
In general, North Korean refugees tend to forgo the practicum after acquiring their hairdresser license in order to start earning money. The practicum allows students to assist hair designers in the field and become familiar with the hair styling techniques learned theoretically over 6 months, all without compensation. Although difficult, if they survive the process, it provides a better opportunity for them to work in an environment with a more stable income, so having a long-term perspective is necessary.
A fellow student only chose to go through the theoretical process and got a job at a hair salon to earn money right away. Three years later, Ms. Mi-yeon got to start work as a hair designer, but the other student remains working as a staff member. Without going through the practicum, getting a job at a hair salon can get you the minimum wage, but it takes a very long time until you can become a hair designer.
After finishing the interview, she said that there’s something she wanted to share with her fellow countrymen. “I often hear that people who start the hair styling training process usually quit in the middle. It’s true that this is a difficult job, but I want to advise you to see through what you started to the end. The easiest thing in the world is to ‘give up’. If you give up because you feel disrespected and you feel hurt, then there’s no place for us to stand here. It’s hard, but if you overcome it once or twice, then you build resilience and you develop ways to overcome the hardships better.”
She says she is satisfied with three facts – her choosing the hairstyling business, never giving up despite it being difficult at times, and continuing to choose this path. She continues to participate in beauty and hair styling seminars hosted by her previous academy to keep up with trending techniques and styles.
Her dream is to open a practice room in her hair salon for North Korean refugees who hope to become hair designers to practice in. It’s just a small dream for now, but by preparing every detail step by step just like she’s doing now, we can expect her dream to become a reality soon.

 

The sound of a blowing hairdryer breaks through the hot afternoon in a hair salon located in the center of Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi-do. It is here that we meet Ms. Lee Mi-yeon, who’s been working as a hair designer for 7 years.

With swift scissoring, she finishes a short cut hairstyle, and after shampooing she turns to the next client and finishes the long hair into a stylish wave. She’s a highly talented hair designer who can produce a variety of styles, but she didn’t have any special talents in the beauty or hair design field from the beginning.

Ms. Lee Mi-yeon’s hometown is Onseong, Hamgyeongbuk-do. During the ‘Arduous March’ of 1997, she visited home during vacation and ended up defecting at her older brother’s urging. She found out later that her brother had been planning for their whole family to defect together and had been waiting for her to visit.